As I dejectedly sat in a Holiday Inn Express hotel room recently, I came across an article called The Great Divide by Elizabeth Benzetti (Elle Magazine Canada, September, 2012). Elizabeth ponders the growing division between the rich and the middle class. It set me to wondering: am I the 99% in a wealthy 1% family? And if I am, how does it divide us? Because divided we are.
Although there had been hints of this lower status in recent years, when I ended my marriage and unwittingly became the 99%, I was never so certain until now: I am temporarily homeless due to a fire in our apartment building. They say that in a crisis you find out who you can rely on and I found out I couldn’t rely on my family. In the wake of the fire, after my initial contact with my mother, there were no phone calls from family members to see if we needed anything or how we were coping. The bare minimum amount of support you would expect from a family was not forthcoming. Their collective silence was deafening. But it got worse: my 99% position in the 1% family has never been clearer.
Trying to get through the unpredictable day to day living of the ‘homeless’ is not a normal way to live. I am not destitute by any means, but there is a limit to my options. I would say to friends and family how fortunate I was to have shelter at our family’s summer house. I said that before I was asked to leave. Apparently, being homeless is no excuse to be present during a sibling’s time booked there. Couldn’t I go to a hotel? Wasn’t my insurance going to pay anyhow? The summer house is over 5,000 sq. ft. and there is certainly room for more than one family. Besides, everyone knows a hotel room is no substitute for the comforts of home. Nevertheless, I was asked to find other living arrangements. I was shocked when one of my brothers stated that if it had happened to him he would have found a home by now. So not only was my homelessness no excuse to stay there, I hadn’t handled it properly. Obviously, my brother’s budget and mine differ vastly. If I had his budget I would have secured an apartment or condo immediately for a ‘pretty’ price. He doesn’t recognize these differences and seems blind to a common 99% problem, budgeting.
After this interaction with my brother, I hastily packed up in tears and found a hotel. I’ve never felt so displaced and unloved by my family as I did in that moment. Wasn’t a time of crisis a time to gather together? Wasn’t it the perfect excuse for my brother and I to spend time together and chat casually over our morning coffee in our pajamas? Clearly, no is the answer. Incidentally, he has a large home including a separate suite but he didn’t once ask if we needed a place to stay for a few nights. If this happened to him, I would tell my brother to stay as long as he wanted. Isn’t that what family is for? Apparently, we are not siblings anymore, only partners in a business.
I ask myself, How did we get here and what does it mean for our future? My father and mother struggled in the early years. They had much less than the 99% of today. But that was a long time ago when we were a big family living in a tiny home. Snacking between meals was practically prohibited. The Bee Gees, “I’ve Just Gotta Get a Message To You” and Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” played on our record player when my brother and sister were babysitting us. We’re not the same family today. This history makes it even more perplexing to me that my family is so insensitive.
Fast forward 40 years and my father’s resourceful mind and hard working ethic made his business a success. Today, it is the work place of every one of my siblings, but I knew at a young age the business wasn’t for me. Consequently, I am not privy to the perks and benefits of working there, and even as part owner I am deprived of benefits or bonuses due to extenuating circumstances. This is where the 99% comes into effect; dividing me from my siblings and even my parents in a way I had never dreamed possible. As owners they have access to bonuses, expense accounts, ‘business’ trips to exotic destinations, low interest loans, and I simply do not. A division is created by this alone. It is apparent that their success and wealth changed them and allowed them to forget their struggles. How else could I explain the fact that my family just doesn’t ‘get it’. For example, when I tried to emphasize the seriousness of the fire I told them how a fund raiser had been organized for the folks who had no insurance and were out of home. In response, my father made a sarcastic remark, saying “Maybe you can get in on that”. This remark stung me. It made me feel poor. It’s as if they have all lost their sense of reality, floating around in a 1% world. Being homeless is a poor person’s problem after all. Are the 1% all insensitive? Have they become blinded by their bank accounts? Can money buy them out of a crisis?
My status as a 99% in a 1% family has been confirmed and the divide widened as a result. But it has taught me important lessons. Firstly, Dorothy was right, there is no place like home whether it’s in a one bedroom apartment or a sprawling palace. It has reminded me I would rather be in the 99% with my compassion intact than live without empathy. It has taught me that my family is successful in business but failing in family values. Where do we go from here? I struggle with that question, coming up empty for answers. The only certainty to me is that without compassion we remain divided. When you’re the 99% in a 1% family it might be up to you to be the teacher; reminding the 1% that money will not make us immune to life’s unexpected disasters and what we really need in a time of crisis can’t be bought.
Is Lisa’s family an anomaly or are they indicative of the 1%?
What would you do if your family member was in a similar circumstance as Lisa?
All images by Lisa Thomson – All Rights Reserved
Guest Author Bio
I am a writer, a mother, an interior decorator and an artist and a work in progress. In 2005 I made the most difficult decision of my life in deciding to end my marriage. In the interim I have learned more about people, the law, parenting, love, independence and my own weaknesses then I would have ever learned in a lifetime. The result is a non-fiction book offering up tips and personal stories for people facing divorce; “The Great Escape; A Girl’s Guide to Leaving a Marriage” is now available on Amazon kindle and for purchase on my website. I have written several articles and published most recently “How Do I Leave My Marriage?” on Divorced Women Online.
To read more about the author visit her website. Lisa’s blog provides divorce support for people either initiating or going through a divorce right now and covers many social topics related to divorce. Lisa also blogs about personal stories in “The Wine Diaries” on the same blog site.
Blog / Website: http://www.lisathomsonlive.com/blog